Duration: 5 hours
Car: tourist class included
Entrance tickets: included
The Lower Gardens of Peter the Great's time, now known as the Lower Park, are a masterpiece of Russian eighteenth-century garden design. Their plan is based on the natural character of the terrain, a flat strip of coast, bounded on the southern side by a terrace, and on the northern side, by the Gulf of Finland. Amidst this setting of green and blue are arranged palaces, pavilions, fountains, and cascades, all linked into a single pattern by a system of straight avenues. Five rays four radial alleys and the Marine Canal with its flanking walks cross the Park from the foot of the terrace to the sea. Three avenues, forming a kind of trident the Marly Avenue, the Maliebaan Alley, and the Birch Walk run from the Marly Pool in the west to the eastern end of the Park. The intersection of the five rays and the three avenues results in a typical, and yet highly individual, formal scheme.
Symmetry is the basic principle of the design, and is to be seen in the siting of the palaces, and in the pattern of the sculptures, fountains, and flower parterres. The Palace of Monplaisir and the Hermitage Pavilion are equidistant from the Great Palace and the Marine Canal, as are the Adam and the Eve Fountains. The Marly and Dragon Cascades are strictly balanced in relation to the Great Cascade; each has in front of it a composition of twin fountains, the dominant role of the Great Cascade being accentuated, in addition, by groups of symmetrically arranged water-jets.
Though distinguished by a perfect unity of style and design, the Lower Park displays a considerable amount of independence in the treatment of its separate sections a trait characteristic of the entire Peterhof complex.
The dominant features of the ensemble are the Great Palace and the Great Cascade. The Marine Canal the main axis of the layout starts here. To the west of it lies the Marly area, and to the east the Monplaisir complex. Each of these areas is laid out, in its turn, in a series of smaller gardens and groves of individual design.
The Central Area of the Lower Park is unrivalled in the splendour of its sculptural, architectural, and water decoration. It incorporates graceful pavilions, vast lawns, beautiful flower parterres, and fifty-five fountains in addition to the seventy belonging to the Great Cascade, the tallest and most powerful. The sparkling jets, the smooth-flowing waters, the gushing streams, and the shining gilt statues, set against the background of the Gulf's waves and the green of the Park, perfectly express the idea of Peterhof as a paradise of the arts.
The basic composition of the Lower Park's central area took shape between 1714 and 1724. It was elaborated from Peter the Great's draft sketches, and the plans and drawings of the architects Braunstein, Le Blond, and Michetti, and the master-gardeners Harnigfelt and Borisov. During the 1730s Zemtsov moved the two rows of the so-called Niche Fountains nearer the banks of the canal, and, in collaboration with Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, the sculptor, created the Samson Fountain; he placed it in the middle of the Pool, thus accentuating the idea of the complex, and achieving a powerful decorative effect.
Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, the architect, and the master-gardener Bernhard Fock, working during the period between 1755 and 1760, further developed the layout of the area, strengthening the effect of stately magnificence; and the work of the master-gardener Vasily Bashlovsky greatly added to the beauty of the Lower Park in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the early years of the nineteenth century, the monumental grandeur of the central complex and the splendour of its water decoration received a new emphasis when two colonnades of stone, with fountains on their roofs and cupolas, were built there to designs of Voronikhin. Between 1853 and 1860 Stakenschneider changed the picturesque low multi-jet fountains of the Water Avenue into high, straight jets, and rounded off the corners of the Parterre with two benches of carved Carrara marble decorated with gilt copper statues and fountains.
In spite of all the changes in architectural style that took place in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, the architects who worked at Peterhof succeeded in preserving the unity of its original concept, and further developed its main idea: the praise of Russia's naval triumphs.